Monday, March 31, 2014

Los Angeles' All-Time Baseball Team

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ “territory” might well be the best of them all. As Duke Snider pointed out, the Southern California climate allows you to play all year long, when much of the country is too cold to play. This results in Southern California producing a disproportionately large amount of good players. This is also why the Sun Belt produces most of the College World Series winners.

Eligibility has nothing to do with whether the player in question actually rooted for the Dodgers growing up, or even if the Dodgers were already in Los Angeles at the time. The only requirement is that the player had to have been trained as a player – “grew up,” for want of a better term – in one of the following California Counties: Kern, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

Orange and Riverside Counties are, for my purposes, the “territory” of the Whatever They’re Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim. San Diego and Imperial Counties are for the San Diego Padres. Alameda, Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano and Stanislaus Counties are the ones I’ve assigned to the Oakland Athletics. And the rest are for the San Francisco Giants, who are also a serious contender for having the best “talent pool” of any of the 30 teams.

6. Los Angeles' All-Time Baseball Team

How strong is this team? I can take either of 3 starting pitchers, and end up with a Hall-of-Famer at every position except catcher -- and even that has an asterisk, as Gary Carter was born in Culver City, Los Angeles County, but grew up in Fullerton, in the Angels' home of Orange County.

1B Eddie Murray of Los Angeles. He is one of only 4 men – 3 to do it honestly – to collect 3,000 hits and hit 500 home runs. He won 3 Gold Gloves, and probably would have won more if Don Mattingly hadn’t come along. He helped the Baltimore Orioles win the 1979 American League Pennant and the 1983 World Series. Number 33 retired. Hall of Fame. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 77.

Honorable Mention to Bob Watson of Fremont, Los Angeles, and Cecil Fielder of La Puente. (Son Prince grew up in Melbourne, Florida, and thus qualifies for the Tampa Bay Rays' all-time regional team.) Mark McGwire of Claremont is ineligible, and you know why. (Although, when The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 91.) Same with Jason Giambi of Covina. And neither one was better than Murray, anyway.

2B Jackie Robinson of Pasadena. Let me tell you how strong this position is for the Dodger region: Bobby Doerr of the Fremont section of Los Angeles is in the Hall of Fame. Chase Utley of Long Beach sure looked like he'd make it as of 2009. Freddy Sanchez of Burbank was a batting champion and a 3-time All-Star.

And none of them match the performance – let alone the impact on the game and on society at large – of Jack Roosevelt Robinson. Indeed, so much has been made of Jackie Robinson the pioneer that Jackie Robinson the player often gets forgotten. He won the NL Rookie of the Year award the first year it was given, 1947, He won the NL batting title and Most Valuable Player award in 1949. He was a 6-time All-Star, batted .311 lifetime, had a 132 OPS+, and in just 10 seasons had 1,518 hits (so he could have gotten to 3,000), 273 doubles, 54 triples, 137 homers and 197 stolen bases. And with his aggressive baserunning, he changed how the game was played, not just by whom.

Of course, Hall of Fame, All-Century Team, and Number 42 retired not just by the Dodgers (even though he played for the Brooklyn version, retiring before they moved to L.A.), but by Commissioner Bud Selig for all of baseball. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 44. And, to think, I almost didn’t include Jackie because he was born in Georgia, though his mother moved the family to Pasadena when he was 1 year old.

SS Robin Yount of Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. Born in the Chicago area, he went to Taft High School in L.A. This guy never got the credit he deserved. He and Hank Greenberg are the only players to win MVPs at 2 different positions, Yount doing so at shortstop in 1982, when he led the Milwaukee Brewers to what is still their only Pennant, and in center field in 1989. Playing in Milwaukee instead of Chicago or another bigger city meant he only made 3 All-Star Games, but after debuting in 1974 at age 18, he gave the Brewers 20 years, 3,142 hits including 583 doubles, 126 triples and 251 home runs, and 271 stolen bases.

Of all players with at least as many stolen bases as he has, only Willie Mays has at least as many home runs and at least as many hits, although Yount has more doubles than Mays (but not more hits, triples, homers or steals), and his ex-teammate Paul Molitor has more hits and steals and nearly as many homers. Career OPS+ 115.

The Brewers have retired Yount's Number 19, which Molitor wore to honor him went he went to the Toronto Blue Jays and found his Brewers number, 4, was already being worn. The Brewers also dedicated a statue of Yount outside Miller Park. He was easily elected to the Hall of Fame, and while he's not the most popular player in Milwaukee baseball history -- both Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews were more celebrated there -- if you're a Wisconsinian my age or younger, he's the best you've ever had.

Honorable Mention to Nomar Garciaparra of Bellflower. From age 23 to 29, he was one of the best baseball players you’ll ever see. At age 32, he briefly recaptured his former greatness. But injuries turned him from “What a player!” to “What might have been.” This guy hit .357 and .372 in back-to-back seasons (as a righthanded hitter!), 4 times hit over 40 doubles (twice reaching 50), and 4 times reached 100 RBIs (twice reaching 120 RBIs.) He seemed like a sure bet for 3,000 hits and the Hall of Fame. As it is, he finished with a career batting average of .313, .361 on-base, .521 slugging, .882 OPS and 124 OPS+.

But he also finished with “just” 1,747 hits and 229 home runs. And note that the Boston Red Sox did not win a World Series until after they traded him, then won another 3 years after that. Hmmmm... He does rather fit "the steroid profile"... But no serious accusation has ever been made against him.

I wonder if the Sox will ever retire his Number 5? And, by marrying Mia Hamm, he’s no longer even the most accomplished athlete in his own marriage. On the other hand, he’s married to Mia Hamm, which ain’t bad at all. Fortunately, their kids look like Mom, and not like “Nosemar.”

Honorable Mention to 2 other Red Sox shortstops, Rick Burleson of Downey and Vern "Junior" Stephens of Long Beach; and to Mike Young of Covina.

Honorable Mention also to Osborne Earl Smith, born in Mobile, Alabama and a graduate of Locke H.S. in Los Angeles. He won 13 Gold Gloves, made 15 All-Star Teams, collected 2,460 hits, and helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the 1982 World Series and the 1985 and 1987 NL Pennants -- but his career OPS+ is just 87. I don't care how good Ozzie's defense was: His bat would kill rallies, so Nomar, once a really good fielder himself, is the starter. Still, he's in the Hall of Fame, and Cards have retired his Number 1.

3B Eddie Mathews of Santa Barbara. Born in Texarkana, Texas, he and his family moved to California when he was 6 years old, probably to escape the Dust Bowl and head for "the land of milk and honey." The only man to play for the Braves in all 3 cities, he reached them in 1952 in Boston, stayed with them until 1966, their first season in Atlanta, and was the most popular player on the team for all 13 years in Milwaukee. Also has the distinction, with New York Giants catcher Wes Westrum, of being on the cover of the first issue of Sports Illustrated magazine, dated August 16, 1954. (Apparently, there was no "Dreaded SI Cover Jinx" yet: Mathews went on to have a great career.)

He and Hank Aaron set a record for most home runs by teammates, 863. (While they were together, from 1954 to 1966, Aaron hit 442, Mathews 421.) He hit a total of 512 home runs, including 47 in 1953, a team record that Aaron would later tie, but not until Andruw Jones in 2005 would it be surpassed. He led the Milwaukee Braves to the 1957 World Championship, hitting a walkoff 10th-inning homer in Game 4 and fielding the final out in Game 7, and the 1958 Pennant. Won another World Series while playing out the string with the 1968 Detroit Tigers. He also managed the Braves, including in 1974 when Aaron hit Number 715.

Hall of Fame, Number 41 retired by the Braves. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 63.

Honorable Mention to George Brett of El Segundo. Born in West Virginia, and older brother Ken Brett (who nearly makes this team as a pitcher) was born in Brooklyn, but they grew up in Dodger territory. Mr. Kansas City Royal is the only man to win batting titles in 3 different decades: 1976, 1980 (.390!) and 1990. The Royals have been to the postseason 7 times with him, never without him. 1980 AL Pennant, 1985 World Championship.

He had a career batting average of .305, and an OPS+ of 135. He is a member of the 3,000 Hit Club, and hit 317 homers despite playing his home games at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Hall of Fame, Number 5 retired. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 55.

Also, Honorable Mention to Darrell Evans of Pasadena, Doug DeCinces of Sepulveda and Terry Pendleton of Oxnard. Evan Longoria of Bellflower still has a ways to go.

LF Ralph Kiner of Alhambra. He was born in New Mexico, but lived most of his off-season life in the Los Angeles area. He only played 10 seasons due to a back injury cutting short his career at age 32. But he led the National League in homers in each of his first 7 seasons, had 2 50-homer seasons while playing his home games in spacious Forbes Field, put together a career OPS+ 149 (wow), and hit 369 home runs. At his pace, if he’d been able to play until he was 40, he would have had close to 600 homers, and might have been a serious threat to get to Babe Ruth’s then-record of 714 home runs well before Hank Aaron got close to it.

Hall of Fame, Number 4 retired by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 90. And if patience is a virtue, then Ralph is a saint, for he was been an employee of the New York Mets, as a broadcaster, from Day One, April 11, 1962, until his recent death, 52 seasons.

Honorable Mention to Roy White of Compton, and Garret Anderson and Ryan Braun, both of Granada Hills, Los Angeles. Also to the Meusel brothers of Los Angeles, who would have been perennial All-Stars had the All-Star Game existed in the 1920s: Bob of the Yankees and Emil of the Giants. (Emil was known as Irish, even though the family was German.) And to Joe Rudi, born in Modesto, the home territory of the A's, for whom he would play in both Modesto in the minors and Oakland in the majors, but grew up in Downey, in the Dodgers' territory. And to George Foster of the 1970s Cincinnati "Big Red Machine," born in Alabama but raised in Lawndale, California, who hit 348 home runs, including 52 in 1977, most in NL play between 1965 and 1998.

CF Duke Snider of Compton. That’s right, Da Duke o’ Flatbush went straight outta Compton to the little ballpark on the edges of Flatbush, Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights. Ya wanna make somethin’ of it?

It's a strange thing: The two best players the Brooklyn Dodgers ever had, Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider, were both from Los Angeles (or close to it); while the best player the Los Angeles Dodgers have ever had, Sandy Koufax, was born in Brooklyn, but did nothing for the Dodgers until well after they moved. The Duke, at least, not only had one of his best seasons, including a great World Series, in 1955, but was still a solid contributor to their 1959 Series win in his hometown. And at the time of his 1964 retirement, his 407 home runs were 10th all-time. Hall of Fame, Number 4 retired. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 83.

Honorable Mention to George Hendrick and Eric Davis, both graduates of Fremont H.S. in Los Angeles. And to Lyman Bostock of Manual Arts H.S. in Los Angeles, a .311 career hitter with a 123 OPS+ when he was shot and killed in 1978, not yet 28 years old.

Bryce Harper is from Las Vegas, Nevada, which, due to its proximity to L.A. and its Hollywood connection, is in the Dodgers' market. But he's had only 2 MLB seasons, and has split his games almost evenly between the 3 outfield positions (104 left, 101 center, 81 right), so even if I wanted to put him in this soon, where would I? Don't tell me, "That's a clown question, bro." Harper will have to wait.

RF Tony Gwynn Sr. of Long Beach. The greatest player the San Diego Padres have ever had, he helped them win their only 2 Pennants, in 1984 and 1998. His .394 in the strike-shortened 1994 season remains the highest in MLB since 1941. Hall of Fame, Number 19 retired, 3,000 Hit Club. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 49.

His brother Chris Gwynn once batted .300 for the Kansas City Royals, but his son Tony Gwynn Jr. grew up in Poway, thus qualifies (by background, if not yet by talent) for the San Diego All-Time Team, rather than the Los Angeles one.

Honorable Mention to Floyd Caves "Babe" Herman, born in Buffalo but raised in Glendale. Phil Rizzuto, who grew up watching him with the Brooklyn Dodgers, thought Herman should be in the Hall of Fame. The Scooter had a case: Herman batted .324 lifetime, an OPS+ of 141, hit 399 doubles even though he had his last full big-league season at age 33, and in 1930 batted .393 with 241 hits, 48 doubles, 11 triples, 35 homers, 130 RBIs and 18 stolen bases.

The problem was that Babe played his first few seasons for the “Daffiness Boys” Dodgers, and he was the daffiest of them all. He frequently protested that he was never, as commonly thought, hit on the head by a fly ball. When asked if he was ever hit on the shoulder by one, he said that didn’t count.

He never, as commonly thought, tripled into a triple play. But in 1926, thanks to a baserunning mistake by Dazzy Vance, a Hall of Fame pitcher not used to reaching third base, Herman did double into a double play, resulting in the old joke that the Dodgers have three men on base: “Yeah? Which base?”

He moved west well before the Dodgers themselves did, playing for a “hometown” team, the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League and starring there, batting .346 at age 41, before returning to a Dodger roster ravaged by the World War II draft for a cup of coffee in 1945.

Additional Honorable Mentions to Tom Brunansky of West Covina, Dwight Evans of Chatsworth, Los Angeles, and Jeff Burroughs of Long Beach. What about Darryl Strawberry of Crenshaw, Los Angeles? Well, he’s gone back to the Mets for employment – nothing wrong with that – but he’s been saying that not only would the 1986 Mets have beaten the 2009 Yankees, but they would’ve beaten the 1998 Yankees. If he believes that, then he must’ve started dipping into his stash again.

C Earl Battey of Watts, Los Angeles. This is the one position in this team's starting lineup that doesn't have a Hall-of-Famer, or a future HOFer. But Battey was no slouch. He was the backup to Sherman Lollar with the 1959 AL Champion Chicago White Sox, but the Sox made a bonehead move trading him to the Washington Senators.

The Senators became the Minnesota Twins, and Battey became one of the best catchers in baseball, reaching 4 All-Star teams and winning 3 Gold Gloves. He helped the Twins win the 1965 AL Pennant and very nearly the World Series – ironically, striking out against Sandy Koufax for the last out, against his hometown team (although that Game 7 was played in Bloomington, Minnesota).

Honorable Mention to Mike Lieberthal of Westlake Village, Los Angeles, whose stats almost all top Battey’s, but is hurt by the fact that the Philadelphia Phillies won a Pennant in 1993, Lieberthal arrived in 1994, his last season with them was 2006, and they’ve made the postseason every year since he left. He’s their Donnie Regular Season Baseball. Good guy, but that record hurts him here.

SP Bob Lemon of Long Beach. A hitter converted into a pitcher, helping the Cleveland Indians win the 1948 World Series and the 1954 AL Pennant. Later managed the Yankees to the 1978 World Championship, which makes him the manager of this team as well. Hall of Fame, Number 21 retired by the Indians. As he himself would have said to one of his players, "Nice job, Meat."

SP Don Drysdale of Van Nuys. At Van Nuys High, he was a baseball teammate of Robert Redford. The speedy, headhunting righthander helped the Dodgers win the World Series in 1959, ’63 and ’65, teaming with Sandy Koufax to form one of the few righty-lefty Hall of Fame pairs ever.

In 1968, he pitched 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, breaking a Walter Johnson record that stood for 55 years, and would stand for another 20 until another Dodger, Orel Hershiser, broke it. Unfortunately, an injury ended his career at age 33 the next season (as one ended Koufax’s career at 31), but he still reached the Hall. Number 53 retired, and “Herbie the Love Bug” got Number 53 in Big D’s honor. He ater became one of the game’s most respected broadcasters, and married basketball star Ann Meyers -- the only husband-and-wife pair to both be elected to their sports' halls of fame.

SP Jim Lonborg of Santa Maria. “Gentleman Jim” won 22 games for the Red Sox in their 1967 “Impossible Dream” season, including the tense finale against the Twins, to clinch the Pennant, all while doing National Guard duty on some weekends, not knowing if he’d be called up to serve in the Vietnam War. (He wasn’t.) He won Games 2 and 5 of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, but was called on to outpitch Bob Gibson in Game 7 on 2 days’ rest (Gibson had 3), and got pounded.

He broke his leg in a skiing accident in the offseason and was never the same, although he became a fine reliever for the Phillies and helped them win the NL East in 1976, ’77 and ’78. Retired to become a dentist. On Cheers, the photo of a righthanded pitcher wearing Number 16, hanging over the bar, meant to be Sam Malone (Ted Danson), is actually Lonborg.

Lonborg won the AL's Cy Young Award in 1967, the first year it was given out to the most valuable pitcher in each League, and the NL winner was also from the L.A. area: Mike McCormick of Alhambra and the San Francisco Giants.

SP Scott McGregor of El Segundo. He was a teammate of Murray’s on the late Seventies, early Eighties Orioles. He arguably should have been the Most Valuable Player of the 1983 World Series. The Yankees let him, and the actual ’83 WS MVP, Rick Dempsey, get away in a 1976 trade for pitcher Grant Jackson. That trade was necessary to win the ’76 Pennant, but in ’79, when Dempsey was becoming one of the game’s best catchers, and McGregor was part of an Oriole rotation that helped them win the Pennant, and Thurman Munson was aching and then dead and the Yankees really needed another starter, it became a bad trade.

SP Jack McDowell of Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles. Black Jack was the ace of the White Sox team that won the AL Central in 1993 (he won the AL Cy Young Award) and was in first place in 1994 when the strike hit. But the Yankees traded for him, and his performance in the 1995 Playoffs against the Seattle Mariners became legendary for the wrong reasons. He blew it, and got booed off the mound at Yankee Stadium. He lifted his middle finger to the fans, and while the New York Post called him JACK THE FLIPPER on its back page, the Daily News, for once, went further than the Post, and called him JACK ASS. After blowing a lead in Game 5 of that series, and the series itself, the Yankees let him go.

He went to the Indians and helped them win the AL Central in 1996, but it was all downhill from there. There was no obvious injury, he just lost it. It got into his head. He's since gone on to a music career, first with a band named V.I.E.W, now one named Stickfigure.

SP Greg Maddux of Las Vegas, Nevada. This is a bit of a cheat on my part, since his father was in the U.S. Air Force, and Greg was born while his father was stationed in San Angelo, Texas, then in Madrid, Spain, before moving to Las Vegas, where Greg attended high school. Normally, I would place a player in the metro area where he was trained to play, but that isn't clear. So I'm putting him in Vegas.

With 355 wins, he is the winningest living pitcher, 1 ahead of Roger somebody. He had 3,371 strikeouts, a career ERA+ of 132, and a WHIP of 1.143. 8 All-Star Teams, 4 Cy Young Awards (and just missed 3 others), and a record 18 Gold Gloves. (OK, he's a pitcher, but, still... ) Number 31 retired by both the Cubs (NL East title 1989) and the Atlanta Braves (World Champions 1995, NL Pennants in 1996 and '99). He is a newly-elected, soon to be inducted, member of the Hall of Fame. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 39, the highest-ranking pitcher then active.

Honorable Mention to Larry Dierker of Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. A terrific pitcher for the Houston Astros in the 1970s, he later broadcast for them, managed them to the NL Central title in 1997, ’98 and ’99 before a bout with cancer (which, thankfully, he survived) ended his managing career. Number 49 retired.

Honorable Mention to Mike Scott of Santa Monica, whose greatness, and thus his place on this team, must be doubted because he was 110-81 when his home park was the Astrodome, but just 14-27 when it was Shea Stadium – and that was a pitcher’s park, too.
RP Dan Quisenberry of Santa Monica. The submarining righthander for the Royals got the last out of the 1985 World Series, and once held the record for saves in a season, 45.

In fact, the L.A. region has one heck of a bullpen: Honorable Mention to Jesse Orosco of Santa Barbara, Todd Worrell and Tim Worrell of Arcadia, Rod Beck of Van Nuys, and Robb Nen of Los Alamitos. Strange that both Quiz and Beck died young.

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